Over the past month, Russian and Syrian regime warplanes have bombed all three of rebel-held Idlib city’s sports facilities.
Last Thursday, three airstrikes hit the Freedom Sports Hall, the city’s largest, in the second attack on the facility in recent weeks.
The Freedom Sports Hall, which hosted basketball, volleyball, handball and ping pong competitions, is now closed. The airstrikes left gaping holes in its ceiling.
In response to the bombings, sports officials in the northwestern city are no longer publicly announcing the schedule of sporting events “out of fear the matches may be targeted,” the Vice President of the General Commission for Sports and Youth in Idlib, who only gave his first name as Abdulatheem, tells Syria Direct’s Amjad al-Muhandas.
Earlier this year, the Idlib branch of the General Commission for Sports and Youth in Syria, which on its Facebook page calls itself a “Syrian non-governmental sports organization that tends to the affairs of free Syrian athletes,” began organizing sporting events in Idlib city.
Freedom Sports Hall after it was bombed. Photo courtesy of Abdulatheem.
The commission re-built sports halls, organized local tournaments and championships and trained athletes for potential international competitions.
Over the past year, officials have “repaired bombed-out sports halls on multiple occasions,” says Abdulatheem.
“But now, we can’t, since the bombing on the city is ongoing.”
Q: Which sports halls in Idlib city have been bombed?
During their latest attack on Idlib and its countryside, Syrian and Russian planes targeted all of the sports halls run by the General Commission for Sports and Youth in Syria. The strikes hit the Freedom Sports Hall—the largest in Idlib city—where most basketball, handball, volleyball and ping pong games were played.
In July, both the badminton area and judo hall, where the commission’s office was located, were bombed and totally destroyed.
Q: Did you conduct activities other than athletic competitions in the facilities? Anything that might provoke an attack?
These are strictly athletic halls; nothing happens here except for sports tournaments, which drew large crowds.
These were spaces for people from Idlib to forget about their worries. The regime is targeting all such facilities in Idlib to put more pressure on the people.
Q: How have these bombings affected the sports community in Idlib?
In the past, many people would come and watch tournaments and matches. But after the sports halls were targeted, most sports activities stopped.
We changed the game schedule and moved competitions to the Karate and Ping Pong hall, which is still open. We haven’t announced the new schedule “out of fear the matches may be targeted.”
This past year, we tried to revive sports culture and activities in Idlib. We have repaired the bombed-out sports halls on multiple occasions. But now, we can’t repair them since the bombing on the city is ongoing.
For athletes, there is no alternative. There are no other sports halls.
Q: Are you preparing for any international tournaments?
In July, a karate fighter was chosen to represent Free Syria in a training camp in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Prior to that, we prepared athletes to participate in international competitions for every sport, especially individual sports. We formed independent sports unions for each sport.
[Ed.: On July 21-24, Eindhoven hosted a karate training camp in which five Syrian opposition karate players participated, Smart News Agency reported in July.]
But following the bombing of the sports halls, we have postponed this work.
Once the bombing dies down, we’ll rebuild the sports halls and continue our activities in liberated areas.